Thursday, December 12, 2013

Rock the Boat by Rachel Allord

Rachel Allord
Please join me in welcoming Rachel Allord as she reveals how to ramp up the conflict in your story. Rock the Boat! Welcome, Rachel. 
~Dora

I recently had a reader tell me he felt his pulse rate increase while reading a relationally intense scene I’d written. Highest compliment ever. He seemed to be waiting for me to say something like, “Oh I’m sorry to put you through that” but what flew out of mouth was, “Awesome!” If I can turn a reader into a hyperventilating, finger twitching, nervous Nellie, I’ve done my job.

Our task, writers, is to make it worse. Not better, worse. Yes, we’ll need to come to some resolution at the end, cause our readers to breathe a deep, satisfied sigh of relief when they close our book, but until then, make it bad. Really, really bad.

Stories thrive on tension. Tension—the thing we try to avoid in reality—is what keeps us turning the pages late at night. We want to smooth things over in real life, keep the boat floating calmly, but in fiction you must rock the boat. I’m certainly not the first to say this but you must ask yourself, what could be the worst thing that could happen to this character at this moment?

There is a catch: The Badness has to be plausible. It has to fit the context of the story and jive with the spirit of your characters. For instance, you can’t suddenly have a plane crash through the roof of your main characters house just to add some sparks, unless of course you’ve somehow set it up where that it makes sense. (And if you’ve managed to do that, good grief, hats off to you.) Your protagonist can’t contract a rare virus halfway through the book simply to avoid a literary sagging middle… unless, of course, you’ve written way back in chapter three that he or she happened to get stung by some creepy-crawly in the Brazilian rainforest. If The Badness isn’t credible your reader will see right through your shenanigans and throw your book across the room. For the reader, The Badness has to be unanticipated but believable. If we don’t believe a character, we don’t give a hoot as to what happens to them, rare disease ridden or not.

So make it bad and plausible.

One more thing: The Badness has to be tempered with periods of calm, increased character development, and maybe even doses of humor. If the story is just one horrible thing after another—car crash, coma, divorce papers, murder—it feels contrived and, ironically, gets a little tedious and brings us back to the whole plausibility factor. No one can have that bad of luck. Unless your character is trapped in a daytime soap.

To summarize, make it bad and plausible and balanced.

So rock the boat. Ruin that imaginary friend’s life. Don’t worry; you’ll get to make it all better in the end. 


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College student Amber Swansen gives birth alone. In desperation, she abandons the newborn, buries her secret, and attempts to get on with her life. No matter how far she runs, she can’t escape the guilt. Years later and still haunted by her past, Amber meets Beth Dilinger. Friendship blossoms between the two women, but Beth’s son is a constant, painful reminder to Amber of the child she abandoned. 

When heartache hits, causing Amber to grapple with the answers to life’s deeper questions, Beth stands by her side. Yet just when peace seems to be within Amber’s grasp, the truth of her past and the parentage of Beth’s son comes to light and threatens to shatter not only their worlds, but the life of the teenager they both love.

Rachel Allord’s debut novel, Mother of My Son, released in May of 2013. Both an adoptive and biological mother, Rachel grew up as a pastor’s kid, vowed never to marry a pastor, and has been happily married to her pastor husband for eighteen years. She resides in Wisconsin where she avidly consumes novels, coffee, and sushi— preferably at the same time.

6 comments:

  1. Enjoyed your post, Rachel. Now I'm off to make my characters miserable. :)

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  2. Great post. I, too, need to go make my imaginary friend miserable ... at least for a scene or three.

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  3. Enjoyed how you layered this post, Rachel. Bad, plausible and balanced. I tend to veer towards "comfortable." Now that I write off an outline, it's easier for me to see where I need to ramp up the conflict. Thanks for sharing today! :)

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  4. Thanks for the comments. Enjoy being mean and nasty! (but only in your fiction of course : )

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  5. I used to have such a hard time making my characters miserable. Not anymore! LOL

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